By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – Sandy hit the borough hard and among those that were hit the hardest were the town’s summer beach clubs.
“Every single one of them got creamed,” said C. Read Murphy, a borough councilman and longtime resident of the oceanfront community.
Two of the clubs “got obliterated,” according to Murphy. “But every one of them had serious damage,” he said.
The two receiving the most damage were Ship Ahoy and Sands, according to James LoBiondo III, general manager of the neighboring Surfrider beach club, and borough councilman.
“They’re in the demolition stage right now,” he said of the clubs, located on Ocean Avenue in the northern end of the borough.
John Chimento owner of Sands has pledged, “We are rebuilding.
“But we’re going to do it with a great deal of care,” he said.
LoBiondo has vowed to have Surfrider operational by the start of summer.
The Sands club was founded by the Sandlass family in 1926. Chimento bought it from them in 1971 and continued to operate it, now with his son.
The future, he said, is “going to be a challenge, there’s no question about it.”
It is a challenge he has every intention of undertaking but he acknowledged that the rebuilt club would likely not be completed by Memorial Day. “Not if you’re going to do it right,” he said.
There will be, however, a Sands presence of some sort for the coming summer, he said. “What we’d like to do is provide people with use of the beach in some fashion,” as future plans move forward.
Murphy, who has met with the owners of the seven clubs recently to discuss the future, said, “They’re all committed and they’re on the same page,” with plans to move forward with rebuilding.
“We’re 100 percent going to be up and running,” by summer LoBiondo said of Surfrider. His operation didn’t suffer as much damage as others, he said. The facility’s main structure was in relatively good shape after the storm’s tidal surge pounded the shore. “We still have our work cut out for us,” he acknowledged. “Thankfully the loss wasn’t as catastrophic [as others].”
Work has already begun on his club, with crews already replacing pilings.
“Mostly we have decking and cabana structures to put back, which is all very feasible for us at this point,” LoBiondo said.
His father, James LoBiondo Jr., purchased the club in 1986. Surfrider actually suffered more damage during the 1992 nor’easter than it did with Sandy. As a result of that storm, upgrades were made on the facility to handle horrific weather events, according to LoBiondo.
As for Sands Chimento, said he’s “been around long enough to know you got to be careful about what you do and you have to take your time and don’t just put it back for the sake of putting it back. I’m building for the next storm, not the last one.”
LoBiondo didn’t want to speculate at this point as to the cost of rebuilding. “We’re putting those numbers together now,” he said.
Murphy’s conversations with owners indicated, “Every one of them is going to cost a couple of million bucks to rebuild.”
Unfortunately, “insurance doesn’t cover a lot of that,” Murphy said.
The operation of the beach clubs is important to the local economy and to the community.
“They’re basically our anchors, our lifeblood,” Murphy said, with members traditionally patronizing local businesses, even coming in the off-season to dine.
The clubs themselves provide a tax base.
“It’s always been a symbiotic relationship,” between the town and these businesses, Chimento said. “We obviously couldn’t exist if it weren’t for the geography of Sea Bright,” offering access to the beach and ocean. “I think we brought a lot of positives to the town.”
Another important component of the equation is the clubs’ culture and that bonding that goes on in many cases for many generations.
“The beach clubs are all little communities and all of them have loyal followings,” Chimento noted. His club counts about 300 families as members and many have been coming their entire lives. Many members continue when they have their own families.
“To me, that means something,” he stressed. “That’s one of the reasons we go on.”
Murphy has been a member “off and on” at Ship Ahoy (one of the clubs totaled in the storm), since 1957. He worked there as a lifeguard during the 1960s.
“You established a rapport and friendships, in many cases for years,” he said. “It was the social fabric that we had,” allowing kids to socialize with kids from different schools through much of the Two River area. Many years ago the clubs conducted Friday night dances and even showed movies on some evenings. “That’s where we all started playing music in the old days,” Murphy recalled fondly. “It was an integral part of who we are.
“We’re definitely going to have some long days ahead of us,” he said as he and club owners continue to work to reopen. “We’re being optimistic about it.”
In the final analysis, Chimento said, “I think you’ll see out of the tragedy a very positive outcome,” for the clubs and the town.